Thursday, February 16, 2012
On That Which Dare Not Be Spoken...
I have never quite understood the aversion of most Lutherans to the practice of reservation for communion (as opposed to the thoroughly understandable Lutheran objection to reservation for adoration). There is not one word in the Lutheran Confessions that is spoken against reservation for communion. Luther never once spoke about getting rid of tabernacles. In fact, the Confessions and the second Martin (Chemnitz) do not object to the carrying of the elements to the sick. Luther himself suggests that the hosts be reserved in a "monstrance" [I am inclined to think that he misspoke here and meant tabernacle] until they could be distributed to the sick (1522). The Brandenburg Church Order of Joachim II (1540) clearly delineates this practice still in usage there well into the maturity of the Reformation period. In addition we have the curious oddity of highly decorated pyxes in Lutheran church buildings well after the Reformation period and many crafted during and after the Reformation itself. Why would there be a pyx if there were no reservation? Lutheran church buildings retained the sakrament haus or tabernacle long after the Reformation.
Lutheran uneasiness about the presence of Christ has both created a receptionism which locates Christ's presence in the bread and wine for only the barest moment prior to its eating and drinking (a practice which continues to afflict Lutheranism to this day). Later Lutherans have attempted to redo Luther's dictum that apart from the use there is no sacrament in order to preclude reservation although it is clear that this had nothing to do witch reservation and everything to do with the adoration outside the Divine Service. Now we have the curious idea that the presence of Christ can neither be located in time (even to the Verba Christi) nor can it be said to continue past the distribution -- as if there were some sacramental shelf life to the Real Presence.
When I entered St. John's College in Winfield I began there a friendship with the esteemed Edward F. Peters who was my teacher, then while he served in New Guinea, later while he was my colleague on Long Island, and in retirement -- a friendship that lasted until his death a few years ago. The good doctor has the definitive word on the meaning of Luther's principle outside the use there is no sacrament. His doctoral thesis has been summarized in CTM (1971) and also in Una Sancta (1968?). There is also much material in the doctoral thesis of Dr. Thomas Hardt (I believe my copy came from the Seminary printshop at CTS, Ft. Wayne). You can also read the excellent book by Bjarne Teigen The Lord's Supper in the Theology of Martin Chemnitz.
I am not going to argue all the points here, except to say I believe that there are implications for the denial of reservation for communion that make our confession of the Real Presence and the orthodox understanding of consecration more difficult. Having an expiration date on the presence of Christ in the bread and wine makes having an inception time (Word and element) a bit more complicated. I am happy to point you to a good summary of Ed Peters' work. You can read Latif Gaba's blog here. You can also read some of the discussion on this topic here (against my position) and more here. Of Diestelmann, you can read a summary here. And here is still more on the topic.
My point here is that this is not a case of the reservation apple falling far from the tree, rather, if we take what the Confessions and the Lutheran theologians of the orthodox period say about consecration, it would follow that reservation for use (communion and not adoration outside this communion) does not violate Lutheran understanding of the Real Presence but is the reasonable practice that this theology of the Real Presence presumes and expects. But it has become that thing which we dare not speak of lest we open a whole can of worms about receptionism (the belief that the Real Presence of Christ commences only upon the reception of the host and cup and neither before nor after) and the shoddy way in which we treat the elements (especially the reliquae or the elements which remain after the Divine Service)) that we confess to be the body and blood of Christ.